Vagary and stability

Even before my 49th birthday, I thought about “‘aging in place:” how and whether transportation options, community, home structure, etc. support our getting frailer while staying in this same place.

Ever since my grandson was born, people ask me whether we’ll be moving closer to where he lives. Or if they don’t know of Baby C, they ask whether we’ll move to Pittsburgh (because B), or Fort Worth (because A).

Is it better to go? Or better to stay?

 

In my young life, I moved on average every second or third year. That was just how it worked out—these were not military moves, or major international corporation moves. Some were for my dad’s various degrees; some were for my dad’s various jobs. My mom framed each move as an adventure, where we would pick up our nest and set it down in a new place that would have delightful new things to learn.

Wandering was my normal; the only place I was “from” was my grandparents’.

I learned a lot as a wanderer. How home is where you call it so, whether in a short-term apartment or a big house. (The presence of your binkit may or may not be required.) How each place has particular foodways, all generally wonderful and usually difficult to reproduce fully elsewhere. (I’m looking at you, bagel.) How what you did before you probably can do here, too… but there might be something new that you’d like to do instead. How moving doesn’t alter the innermost truth of you; that no new-to-you community owes you anything; that most communities, however, are happy to share if you meet them where they are.

 

After my undergrad, I moved to Austin. Yep, there was a guy—my then-fiancé, in fact. But he moved away, and I stayed… and stayed… and am still here. My Sweetie and I bought this house the June after we were married in March, moved into it in August, and here I still am.

For someone who was formed by packing up, relocating, and exploring, I’ve been startlingly stationary these past twenty-four years. I like it. I particularly like my house, as a beautiful object and as my snail’s shell. The grounds surrounding us are also lovely, soothing and supporting my artist’s soul.

There is something challenging, too, about staying in one place. When you’re moving, St. Benedict’s “Always we begin again” is every day’s practical fact. Clearly you have little to fall back on; everything must be developed from scratch. But by living in one spot for twenty-four years it becomes easy to delude yourself that 95% of life is old-hat, is routine, can be relied upon… and dismissed. Evolving into a local can mean you are the insider defining all the outsiders. A certain amount of “back when” stories will lock the gate against anyone who wasn’t here “when.” I know; that gate’s been locked in front of me before. Too, staying includes “staying behind,” when those you care about step on to their next adventure where you can’t see them—and you remain, seeing their shadows in all their former places.

 

After spending one week in traveling, then traveling, then staying home, the old ideas of vagus and statio rolled around my idling mind. As a fan of both the Abbey of the Arts and the Cadfael Chronicles, I’m nominally familiar with the Rule of St. Benedict, those organizing ideas of the Benedictine monastic Order. Benedict requires that participating monks stay in one place, letting one’s very stability strip away the distractions of movement—a specific, inarguable form of “No matter where you go, there you are.” In the Abbey of the Arts’ practices for creatives, this then intersects with the Celtic Christian archetype of the monk climbing into a coracle, to minister wherever the boat beaches.

The tensions around going and staying are intrinsically, inescapably human. Particularly as I learn the ways that going requires one to bring her own stability, and staying calls forth her attention to variation.

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